Angling for the "Powte": a Jacobean Environmental Protest Poem

Todd Borlik, Clare Egan

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    Abstract

    In his monumental 1662 history of the drainage of the fens, the antiquarian William Dugdale reports that outraged locals composed “libellous songs” to protest the theft of their commons. Preserving a rare specimen of this genre, Dugdale printed an anonymous ballad entitled “The Powtes Complaint.” The song adopts a non-human point of view to bewail the destruction of both the wetlands ecology and the fen-dwellers’ economy. This essay examines four different manuscripts of the ballad in the British Library, documenting their variants and commenting on their significance. It also seeks for answers to some pressing questions: when was the song written and where? What did it sound like? What socio-historical and environmental circumstances prompted its composition? How does the ballad portray the fenland ecology, and how does it compare with other seventeenth-century literary representations of the fens? What exactly is a pout? What is the nature of its complaint? And who was the person behind the song?
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)256-289
    Number of pages34
    JournalEnglish Literary Renaissance
    Volume48
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018

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